Let's get Hong Kong's great minds to think alike on political reform

Mike Rowse says members of Tung Chee-hwa's and Ronny Tong's think tanks should work together to solve the intractable problem of the make-up of the nominating committee

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 July, 2015, 12:05am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 July, 2015, 12:05am

It must be very tempting for all sides to drop the issue of political reform, at least for a while. The pan-democrats are clearly suffering from "protest fatigue" as the much lower numbers taking part in this year's July 1 march show. To date, all their achievements are negative: closing down major traffic arteries for 79 days in the Occupy protest, obstructing government business in the Legislative Council and its committees, and defeating the milksap reform package. They are certainly no closer to achieving their main objective of a more democratic government system.

The administration, too, is exhausted and has no stomach to renew the struggle. Three of our most senior officials - Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung and Constitutional and Mainland Affairs chief Raymond Tam Chi-yuen - devoted themselves to the cause for months on end to no avail. Important figures from the central authorities sprang forth on demand with strident support and dire warnings of what would and wouldn't happen if the package failed to pass. It didn't matter.

And yet, there is a small persistent voice in my ear that just won't let go of a simple thought: the main problem has not been fixed and is not going away. The underlying problem is that the present arrangements do not give our chief executive a proper mandate, because the structure and method of identifying the members of the nominating/election committee are not reasonably representative of Hongkongers. So it does not matter what the committee will do in 2017; it will not be fit for purpose until we reform it.

It is all very well for the pan-democrats to mock Leung Chun-ying by shouting "689" - the number of votes he secured from the 1,200 members of the committee to secure his present term. In fact, 689 would provide a very plausible mandate if the 1,200 themselves were reasonably representative, but even 1,199 votes would not provide a mandate if the committee retains its present shape and format. And giving five million people the opportunity to choose between candidates nominated by such a committee also fails to achieve the main objective.

The underlying problem is that the present arrangements do not give our chief executive a proper mandate

This needs thinking about, and cometh the hour cometh the man (or men). Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa has formed a think tank called Our Hong Kong Foundation. After a ritual expression of regret over defeat of the reform package, the body has announced its intention to reach out to the moderates among the pan-democrats and see if there isn't a way to move forward.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the political spectrum, prominent pan-democrat Ronny Tong Ka-wah has just resigned from the political party he helped found on the grounds that it has become too militant and moved away from its original moderate stance. Tong has also formed a think tank, Path of Democracy, with the aim of reaching out across the political divide to try to achieve real progress while assuring Beijing of Hong Kong people's bona fides.

Could we induce these two august bodies to think great thoughts together? Without wishing to seem too much of a cock-eyed optimist, the auguries seem reasonably promising. The committee is entirely a creature of local legislation, so the central government and its minions need not be involved. It can be extensively reformed while still keeping within the bounds of the Basic Law and the various pronouncements of the National People's Congress Standing Committee. And, as a bonus, the head of the Beijing Liaison Office, Zhang Xiaoming , has recently promised not to talk publicly about political reform for the next two years.

In sailing, we call that a fair wind.

Mike Rowse is managing director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at Chinese University. mike@rowse.com.hk